Smoking cessation, also known as quitting smoking, is not easy but it is necessary to improve your health. Many people quit smoking with the use of support programs, counseling, and medicines.
Smoking Cessation Overview
Tobacco use is the most common preventable cause of death. Roughly half of the people who do not quit smoking will die of smoking-related problems. Quitting smoking is important for your health and it greatly reduces the risk of these developing smoking-related diseases.
Soon after you quit, your circulation begins to improve, and your blood pressure starts to return to normal. Your sense of smell and taste return, and it is easier for you to breathe. In the long term, giving up tobacco can help you live longer. Your risk of getting cancer decreases with each year you stay smoke-free.
Quitting is not easy. You may have short-term effects such as weight gain, irritability, and anxiety. Some people try to quit several times before they are successful. There are many ways to quit smoking. Some people stop "cold turkey" but tobacco and nicotine dependence often requires repeated treatments. Thankfully, there are many helpful treatments and resources for quitting. Many smokers benefit from step-by-step manuals, counseling, or medicines or products that help reduce nicotine addiction. Some people think that switching to e-cigarettes can help you quit smoking, but that has not been proven. Your health care provider can help you find the best way for you to quit.
Smoking Cessation Symptoms
In the short-term, smoking cessation can cause unpleasant side effects and symptoms including:
- feeling irritable, angry, or anxious
- having trouble thinking
- craving tobacco products
- feeling hungrier than usual
Over time, the benefits of smoking cessation include:
- decreased blood pressure
- decreased heart rate
- improved circulation and lung function
- decreased coughing and shortness of breath
- decreased risks of coronary heart disease and cancer
Smoking Cessation Causes
Quitting smoking is not easy. The difficulty in quitting and staying tobacco-free is mainly due to the nicotine in cigarettes. Nicotine is a naturally occurring drug found in tobacco and is as addictive as heroin and cocaine. Over time, smokers become physically dependent and emotionally addicted to nicotine. This dependence causes unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when you stop smoking.
Withdrawal symptoms can include any of the following:
- dizziness (which may last 1 to 2 days after quitting)
- feelings of frustration, impatience, and anger
- sleep disturbances, including having trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, and having bad dreams or even nightmares
- trouble concentrating
- restlessness or boredom
- increased appetite
- weight gain
- constipation and gas
- cough, dry mouth, sore throat, and nasal drip
- chest tightness
- slower heart rate
These symptoms can make the smoker start smoking again to boost blood levels of nicotine until the symptoms go away.
Smoking Cessation Diagnosis
If you smoke, you probably already know you need to quit. If you need help choosing a support program or method for quitting successfully, talk to your healthcare provider.
Living With Smoking Cessation
If you have decided to quit smoking, create your quit-smoking action plan. The first step should be to get support. Support can come from family, friends, your doctor, a counselor, a support group, or a telephone quit line. Support can also come from use of one or more of the medications approved for smoking cessation.
Another key step in your quit-smoking action plan is planning for challenges. For example, make a list of high-risk places you will want to avoid when you start your quit-smoking plan. Think of other places to go where smoking is not allowed, such as a shopping mall, a museum, or movie theater.
Next, pick a specific day within the next month to quit smoking. Do not set your quit day too far in the future or you may find it hard to follow through, but do not quit before you have a quit-smoking plan in place, either. Having a day in mind can help you prepare for what to expect and line up helpful support. Pick a random day as your quit day, or pick a day that holds special meaning for you, such as a birthday or anniversary, a holiday, or a day of the week that is generally less stressful for you.
There are steps you can take as you prepare for your quit day.
- Mark the day. Make a big notation of your quit day on your calendar. It is an important day in your life, so treat it like one.
- Talk to your health care provider. If you have not talked to your doctor or health care provider yet about quitting smoking, do so now. Ask about stop-smoking counseling and medications. Using either counseling or medication improves your odds of success. And combining them is even more effective. If you'll be using the prescription medication bupropion (Zyban) or varenicline (Chantix), you should start the medication at least a week or two before your quit day to give it time to begin working.
- Tell people. Let family, friends, and co-workers know about your quit day. They can provide moral support.
- Clean house. Rid your home, car, office, and other places of your smoking and tobacco supplies.
- Stock up. Have on hand items that can substitute for the cigarette you are used to having in your mouth, such as sugarless gum, hard candy, cinnamon sticks, and crunchy vegetables.
- Join up. The more support you have, the more likely you are to stop smoking successfully. Find local quit-smoking support groups. Many hospitals and clinics offer classes or groups. You can join online quit-smoking groups or programs. You can even get applications for your phone text messages or alerts to help you quit. Every state and many employers have a telephone quit line with professional coaches to help you develop your quit plan and support you through the process.
- Reflect. If you have tried to quit smoking before, but started up again, think about what challenges you faced and why you started again. What worked and what did not? Think about what you can do differently this time. For example, make a list of your triggers and how you will deal with them. Keeping a journal about your quit-smoking efforts may help you monitor feelings and situations that ignite your smoking urges.
Getting through your quit day can be emotionally and physically challenging, especially if strong tobacco cravings strike. Try these tips to help manage your quit day:
- Do not smoke, not even "just one."
- Use nicotine replacement therapy if you have chosen that method.
- Remind yourself of your reasons to stop smoking.
- Drink plenty of water or juice.
- Stay active.
- Avoid situations and people that trigger your urge to smoke.
- Attend a support group, counseling session, or stop-smoking class.
- Practice stress management and relaxation techniques.
- Keep your hands busy by typing, writing, squeezing a ball or knitting.
Living smoke-free lets you live a healthier and probably longer life. By the end of your first year of not smoking, your risk of heart attack decreases by half. After 15 years, it's almost the same as someone who never smoked. Living smoke-free can also mean better quality of life with more stamina and a better ability to appreciate tastes and smells.
However, living smoke-free does not mean living stress-free. In fact, smokers often cite stress as a reason for relapsing. Instead of using nicotine to help cope with stress, you will need to learn new ways to cope. For more help, talk with your doctor or a mental health provider.
Smoking Cessation Treatments
Counseling and medication are both effective for treating tobacco dependence, and using them together is more effective than using either one alone.
The following treatments are effective for smokers who want help quitting:
- help from a doctor
- individual, group, or telephone counseling
- behavioral therapies (such as training in problem solving)
- treatments with more person-to-person contact and more intensity (such as more or longer counseling sessions)
- programs that deliver treatments using mobile phones
Medications for quitting that are effective include:
- nicotine replacement products which are available in over-the-counter products such as nicotine patches, gums, lozenges (Commit, Habitrol, Nicoderm CQ, Nicorette, Thrive) and prescription patches, inhalers, and nasal sprays (Nicotrol)
- non-nicotine medication such as bupropion SR (Zyban) and varenicline (Chantix)